One of the reasons I feel more comfortable riding my bike than driving is because I know how to fix most problems that can occur with a bike, and the total tool-set that makes it possible is with me all the time (and is less than a pound of weight). Luckily, bicycles are fairly simple instruments, and they won’t electrocute or burn you or chop your arm off if you open them up. Most of the time you don’t even have to waste time with opening them up because there is no lid at all, the mechanism is right in front of your eyes in easy-to-access places.
Also, most adjustables we will look at are not adjustable for luxury, but for necessity/functioning. For example you don’t adjust your seat-post only for comfort, but also for better pedaling efficiency and so you don’t wear out your knees over time. Likewise your break is not adjustable for sheer beauty but because adjusting them properly make them work better, or work at all. So do know the basics: it is better to get oily fingers than getting stuck on the road for hours.
Almost all repair process is not only free information but also easy to find. WikiHow has a pretty good set of information in general about this subject. Also does Bicycle Tutor and Sheldon Brown’s website. And a Google search will bring up a plethora of information too. So if you have a computer, or access to one, you are in good hands.
Nevertheless I will go through some points of adjusting. I am hoping that if you didn’t do anything towards fixing or adjusting your bike maybe you try, and then the ice will break and the next act will come easier. And hopefully you will feel the empowerment I feel since I dare to handle my bike, not just pedal it.
Well, let’s look at the seat-post. You either have a quick-release (a little lever) where the frame meets the tube sticking out of the bottom of the seat, or have some sort of a nut there, to tighten the frame around the seat stem. Loosening either will allow you to raise or lower the seat. Rotating the seat up and down can be adjusted just under the seat, at the top of the seat post. Look for the double nut or Allen wrench hole to make this adjustment. And do own an Allen wrench, it is indispensable for most bikes made this century.
Set the seat so your toes safely reach the road surface without you having to fall in trying. The lower the post is, the safer the stops may be, but also the lower the seat is set, the less effective you are on the saddle, and the more danger pedaling is to your knees on the long term.
Adjusting the handle bar is not harder – if the range it has meets your comfort range. For me usually the highest setting is way too low, as I like upright bicycling, and also because I appreciate comfort a lot more than speed, and the low handlebars are usually to make you think your air dynamics are better, but really it is just a cheaper solution in general to make them lower. When you go for comfort, it is helpful to start with an upright bicycle instead of a road bike or a department store type mountain bike. Otherwise you run out of handlebar-stem length and/or cable length (the brake cables and derailleur cables may be too short), before you reach your comfort range, and then everything gets a lot more complicated. Anyway, usually there is not much stem-length to adjust the handle bars, but you can check that out by loosening the screw on top of the handle bar stem, tapping it lightly with a hammer to get the rig loose, and pull the stem out up to the mark for maximum before re-tightening – also, make sure the front wheel is aligned well to the handle bar – it is annoying to always have to steer left in order to go straight… And be careful not to adjust the handle bar without a few inches in the socket (my minimum is three inches), otherwise the whole steering may be unsafe.
Do I need to mention pumping up the tires? It is just so simple, but why not. I find it is the most beneficial to fill the tires up to the maximum pressur that is suggested on the side of the tire for normal road surfaces, or less for softer surfaces or smoother riding. The lower the pressure the more effort it takes to pedal somewhere though. Well, all this is easy if you have a pump with a pressure-meter of course. If not, just make sure, that you can’t press the tires in one third of the way or more towards the rim, no matter how strongly you try. Even if you sit on the bike. Or, create some useful neighborhoodly connection by going around in the ‘hood, and ask for a pump with the little air-pressure instrument attached.
One more thing about tires: there are two kinds of valves, that are not inter compatible. make sure you have a pump that can fill your tires. However there is a converter from the wider Schrader valve to the narrower Presta Valve, that is a simple instrument indeed and costs maybe a couple of dollars.
Next time we will look at the real adjustment jobs, namely adjusting the brakes and the derailleurs.